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Week 17: Disease and Public Health in America

Lecturer: Margaret Charleroy

This lecture describes the origins and key elements in public health during the nineteenth and twentieth century. We will discuss themes in the history of public health in America, such as the relationship between humans and the environment, the role of urbanization, the shifting interpretation of disease causation, the significance of bacteriology, and the problems of measuring health.


Discussion/Essay Questions:

1- How did developments in bacteriology change the relationship between humans, health, and the environment?

2- Describe factors that shaped the social and medical understanding of a specific disease or public health campaign in the nineteenth or twentieth century America.


Required Readings:

Tomes, Nancy. 'Disciples of the Laboratory' in The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women, and the Microbe in American Life, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), pp. 91-112 (e-book)

Tomes, Nancy, 'The Private Side of Public Health: Sanitary Science, Domestic Hygiene, and the Germ Theory, 1870-1900,' in Sickness and Health in America, edited by Judith Walzer Leavitt and Ronald Numbers (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), pp. 506-528.


Further Readings:

Crosby, Alfred W. America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Duffy, John. A History of Public Health in New York City, 1866-1966. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1974..

Ettling, John. The Germ of Laziness: Rockefeller Philanthropy and Public Health in the New South. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Georgina D. Feldberg. Disease and Class: Tuberculosis and the Shaping of Modern North American Society. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995.

Stuart Galishoff. Newark, the Nation’s Unhealthiest City, 1832-1895. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1988.

Christopher Hamlin. ‘Predisposing causes and public health in early nineteenth century medical thought’, Social History of Medicine, 5:1, 43-70, 1992.

Evelynn Maxine Hammonds. Childhood’s Deadly Scourge: The Campaign to Control Diphtheria in New York City, 1880-1930. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Margaret Humphreys. Malaria: Poverty, Race, and Public Health in the United States. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Hoy, Suellen M. Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Kraut, Alan M.. Silent Travelers: Germs, Genes, and the “Immigrant Menace”. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

Leavitt, Judith Walzer. The Healthiest City: Milwaukee and the Politics of Health Reform. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Lerner, Barron H.. Contagion and Confinement: Controlling Tuberculosis along the Skid Road. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Markel, Howard, 1995. ‘Knocking out the cholera’: cholera, class, and quarantines in New York City, 1892’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 69:3, 420-457.

Markel, Howard. When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics that have Invaded America since 1900 and the Fears they have Unleashed. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004.

Graham Mooney. 1999. ‘Public health versus private practice: the contested development of infectious disease notification in late nineteenth century Britain’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 73:2, 238-67.


Rosenberg, Charles E.. The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1962.

Risse, Guenter B.. 1988. ‘Epidemics and history: ecological perspectives and social responses’, in Elizabeth Fee and Daniel M. Fox (eds.). Aids: the burdens of history. Berkeley: University of California Press, 33-66.


Rosner, David. Hives of Sickness: Public Health and Epidemics in New York City. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995.

Rothman, Sheila M. Living in the Shadow of Death: Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

Smith, Susan Lynn. Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Black Women’s Health Activism in America, 1890-1950. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.

Tomes, Nancy. The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women, and the Microbe in American Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.